The Legend of King Arthur
Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to do in the comments section.
Today, I am going to make a podcast in response to a request made by Adrian. Adrian asked if I could make a podcast about the history of British royalty. So I started doing a bit of reading and making some notes and I was trying to work out where to begin. You see, I’m not really a fan of the royal family, but most people in the UK like them and I do understand the attraction.
It’s quite a romantic topic – the kings and queens in the past with their castles and knights and that brought me to a story of a British king that I do like. Only this story isn’t really part of history, this story is a legend. I will try to talk about some of the more important kings and queens from history in another podcast, but today, I want to make this podcast about the legend of King Arthur.
This podcast will focus on B2 vocabulary with a few more advanced words. I’ll try to cover the vocabulary as I go.
Before I start, I need to talk about the word legend. A legend is simply a very old story. Legends are popular stories and are told for entertainment because they are fun or inspiring, they don’t have to be true and often include magical or mythical elements like witches, wizards and dragons.
A legend is similar to a myth. A myth is also an ancient story, but myths are told to explain something, perhaps the origin of people or about gods and goddesses. Legends are just for fun. We use the adjective forms legendary and mythical. We use legendary to talk about people and mythical to talk about magical creatures or objects.
To be crowned
The story of King Arthur is a legend. I grew up with tales of King Arthur and the wizard Merlin and the sword Excalibur. The legend goes, Arthur was crowned king in the 5th century. When someone becomes the king or queen, it is in a ceremony called a coronation where a crown is placed on their head. They are crowned king or crowned queen.
I’m not sure what Arthur’s background was, but in some stories, he was the son of King Uther Pendragon but had somehow been brought up ignorant of this fact. He was not aware that he was the son of the king. He was ignorant about his father.
He was raised in a simple family and became a squire to a knight called Sir Kay. A knight is a special rank or award that the king or queen can give you. They make you a knight by knighting you which is another ceremony where you kneel and the king or queen places a sword on your shoulder and asks you to stand up by saying ‘arise Sir Jack’ – for example. And from that moment on, you have the title Sir. So you’re not Mr or Dr, you are Sir. Arthur was Sir Kay’s squire. A squire was like a butler or full-time servant for a knight.
When Arthur was still a boy, King Uther was killed by an evil character called Vortigern. I love it in stories when the baddies have really evil-sounding names. You know that a character is not going to be good with a name like Vortigern.
Arthur was the rightful heir to the throne and should have become the king. But Vortigern took the crown as Arthur had no idea that his father was the dead king. An heir is the person that receives the money or property from someone when they die. Usually, when a person dies, if they have children, their children inherit their property or money. The children are usually the heirs.
The crown / the throne
The crown is the special hat that the king or queen wears, but the word can also be used to talk about the role and responsibility of being king or queen. You can also use the word throne in the same way. The throne can mean the special seat that the king or queen sits on and it can also mean the role of king. Arthur should have inherited the crown as he was the heir, but Vortigern took the throne.
Now it seemed that God or the Gods were not happy about this. You see, there was a legendary sword called Excalibur. I’ve used the word sword a couple of times now – it’s a weapon with a long blade, a long sharp edge, a bit like a really long knife that knights used to fight with – I think that this word is well known, but the dictionary says B2. It’s written with a silent w – sword – but pronounced sword. Excalibur was the sword of the true king, but at some point in the past, it had been lost. However, everybody at the time knew about Excalibur and believed the sword world return if England was in trouble.
Shortly after Vortigern had killed Uther and taken the throne, Excalibur appeared sticking out of a large stone in a church graveyard on Christmas Eve. As I said, everybody back then knew about this sword and that it would appear when England was in trouble and only the true king could wield it. Wield is an advanced verb and it’s used with weapons or tools when you are holding them as if you are going to use them. So if you pick up a sword and have a look, that’s not the same as wielding it, but if you start swinging it around like you want to chop someone, then you are wielding it.
The blade of the sword Excalibur was buried deep in a stone. People tried to pull the sword out, but it was firmly stuck. Nobody could pull it out no matter how hard they pulled. It became clear to everyone that only the true king could remove the sword. Lots of people had tried to pull it from the stone. Even Vortigern had a go, but the blade wouldn’t budge, it wouldn’t move at all. Over time, the sword in the stone became a local legend and anyone visiting the area would try to have a go.
When Arthur was a teenager, he was visiting the area and happened to pass by the churchyard on his way home and went to take a look at the legendary sword. When he was there, he accidentally leant on Excalibur and freed it from the stone. He was afraid that he would get into trouble so he quickly put the sword back and rushed home. He didn’t try to pull Excalibur from the stone, he just leant on the sword and it fell out. He pulled the sword from the stone by accident or accidentally – it wasn’t on purpose. Anyhow, the young Arthur was afraid when he pulled Excalibur from the stone so he ran home.
He was still working for Sir Kay then and told the old knight what had happened in the churchyard. Right away, Sir Kay started telling everyone he could. He called for a crowd of people to return to Excalibur so that everyone could witness Arthur remove Excalibur from the stone. If you witness something, you see it happen with your own eyes. Normally, we use the word witness with crimes. Witnesses are people that saw a crime happening and will testify in court. Sir Kay knew that Arthur would need witnesses if he could pull Excalibur from the stone.
Sure enough, back in the churchyard, with a crowd around Arthur takes Excalibur by the hilt, that is the handle of the sword, Arthur takes Excalibur by the hilt and draws it effortlessly from the stone. The crowd immediately dropped to their knees as they knew they were in the presence of the true king.
Many strong people had tried to pull Excalibur out of the stone. They had pulled really hard, with all their strength, but the blade wouldn’t move. When Arthur tried, the sword came out effortlessly, with no struggle or effort. This was proof to the people that were there in the churchyard that Arthur was the true king, that they were in the presence of the true king.
Unified and united
Arthur went on to defeat Vortigern and unified the tribes of England and Wales to fight against the Saxon invaders who immigrated from Saxony in Germany after the Romans left Britain. At the time, the UK was a patchwork of small tribal kingdoms and Arthur united them all fighting against the Saxons and created a vast English and Welsh kingdom. I’m not sure how far north the legend goes, but it may be that in Arthurian legend, Scotland was part of his empire.
A tribe / tribal
A tribe is a group of people that share the same language and culture. It’s a bit like a nation, but normally smaller. The UK had many tribes which sort of evolved into kingdoms. Arthur unified these kingdoms by taking power over them all. He unified or united the country. That is, he made the different kingdoms into one kingdom.
The legend of King Arthur has been written many times from the 11th and 12th centuries onwards and has always been popular. I grew up watching films and being read tales of Arthur and his friend Merlin the wizard and the knights of the round table and there have been recent films and TV series based on the legend.
I am sure that these romantic legends are part of the reason that people still like the royal family today. I will return to this topic and talk about some historic kings and queens of England and Scotland in another podcast.
Thanks, Adrian for suggesting this topic and I know that you wanted me to make a podcast about history rather than legend, but I think the romantic ideas about Kings and Queens help explain why they are still around today as much as the history.
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Thanks for listening.